“Middling film complete with nostalgic 1980’s throwback costume, music, and unfortunately, the racist and male-centric tropes of that decade as well.”
Title: Sing Street (2016)
Director: John Carney 👨🏼🇮🇪
Writer: John Carney 👨🏼🇮🇪
Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
Middling film that falls into the “feel-good” and autobiographical categories, complete with nostalgic 1980’s throwback costume, music, and unfortunately, the racist and male-centric tropes of that decade as well. It’s a cute film, sure—but Sing Street is well-traveled territory by those who have done this better and/or earlier. School of Rock (2003) or Where the Wild Things Are (2009), for example, have both harnessed the raw, unshackled optimism of youth into film with music as its heartbeat. The only thing Sing Street brings to the table is an Irish take on an old story.
I would have rated this film 2.5/5 but I try and stay close to critics’ averages to weed out my own biases in this category. Rotten Tomatoes (170 reviews) had this at 8/10; Metacritic floated a similar 79/100.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? NO
This is where Sing Street hit a flat note for me. (Puns!) The only female with more than a handful of lines is the love interest, Raphina (Lucy Boynton), and I found it disturbing that her identity was wholly wrapped up in her looks. While I understand that Carney was trying to paint a realistic portrait of flawed teenagers fumbling their way to maturity, I still didn’t like the way Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) feeds into that damaging world-view, either by a) only complimenting her on her looks or b) staying silent when Raphina is being self-deprecating, as in the below exchanges.
One creepy exchange where Raphina says she isn’t worthy of her father’s love:
For extra discomfort, let’s throw in domestic violence:
While the above exchanges could be chalked up to characterization—women should be flawed and vulnerable in media, just as all humans are in real life—Carney’s interview with Screen Crush is revealing. When asked about the romance depicted in Sing Street, Carney pivots to himself, mentioning his band, bullies, teachers, and his parents, before blithely addressing the question with “And I got the girl that I fancied.” As if the real-life Raphina was an object to be won. Aaaand up goes the red flag.
Set in the 1980s Ireland…yep, it’s as white as you’d expect. But considering <6% of Ireland’s residents were non-white in even 2011,* I can’t really fault them for it. Our methodology scores a category with 3/5 even with no representation, so long as ethnic ratios are accurate to the context and spoken of inoffensively.
Taking that into account, Sing Street’s token POC materializes as a black student named Ngig (Percy Chamburuka) who is part of Conor’s band but never gets more than a few lines. At that point, why bother with one rote, simplistic character? Just to tick a box?
Where I’m actually docking a point is for offensiveness, not just laziness. When shooting their first music video, Raphina dons a Japanese kimono (or according to Conor, it’s Chinese) and—to the chinky keyboard notes of “Turning Japanese” by the Vapors—she puts her hands together and bobs her head side-to-side, finished out with a loud, drawn-out gong. I get that this was painfully true to the 1980’s; however, this was a creative decision made in 2016 so I don’t feel compelled to wave this off. (Also, I’m Asian-American so when I hear that music refrain, the PTSD is real. Thanks, FOX News.)
I would’ve listed N/A for no representation or allusions to LGBTQ culture; however, there is active and continuous hate speech from the schoolboys as they taunt Conor and his gang. Yes, I understand this is an autobiographical film and that this derogatory language was probably true to Carney’s upbringing when he was bullied. However, the screenplay was written in 2016 and these are conscious decisions the writers have made to include anti-LGBTQ slurs.
Mediaversity Grade: D (2.13/5)
Was this enjoyable to watch? Sure, if not great or memorable. Was it diverse or inclusive? Not in the slightest. And while the autobiographical nature of the film and ultra white, real-life context scrabbled back a point or two for Sing Street, director John Carney really embraced this era, offensive tropes and all. Meanwhile, Gender is especially problematic in Sing Street for all the reasons detailed above.
I wish Carney had taken a cue from other nostalgic shows; Stranger Things or “San Junipero” from Black Mirror both took the best of their source materials and left the offensive crap in the past. Sing Street should have done so too.
* Central Intelligence Agency, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ei.html